Socialist Worker

The Empire’s lasting legacy on British society today

Empire State of Mind explores how British colonialism fed into nationalism and racism at home. It’s well worth watching, says Chinedu Chukwudinma

Issue No. 2781

Sathnam Sanghera stands in front of a statue of Major-General Robert Clive, who helped establish the British Empires rule in India

Sathnam Sanghera stands in front of a statue in Shrewsbury of Major-General Robert Clive, who helped establish the British Empire's rule in India

Winston Churchill and Enoch Powell would be turning in their graves if they learned about Sathnam Sanghera’s Empire State of Mind.

The documentary denounces the grim legacy the British Empire left behind in Britain itself.

It destroys the idea that British people should celebrate the empire—an idea the political elite uses to foster racism.

Through his documentary, Sanghera looks at how Britain’s imperial past shapes British society today as it becomes increasingly divided.

He tells us about growing up in Wolverhampton in the 1970s as the son of Sikh immigrants while facing racism from politicians and the far right.

His contradictory sense of exclusion and belonging to British society prompted him to discover how his migrant background connects to the history of British colonialism.

In doing so, Sanghera uncovers how Britain underdeveloped India and subjugated Indians during the colonial era.

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While the documentary might educate people with little or no knowledge of Britain’s colonial past, someone familiar with the topic can still learn something new.

Sanghera highlights that Fiji provides more soldiers to the British army than any other former colony in the Commonwealth. Fijian soldiers often cannot obtain British ­citizenship or settled status for themselves and their families in Britain despite ­fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite his fascinating ­presentation of how the empire shaped modern Britain, Sanghera often falls into oversimplistic statements about the nature of this relationship.

Regarding Brexit, he argues that British people voted to leave the European Union (EU) because of racism and colonial nostalgia.

He says they feared becoming a colony of a larger entity and wanted to recover Britain’s status as an ­independent imperial power.

He doesn’t consider the extent to which the Leave vote constituted a class revolt of the poor and ­forgotten against the rich and the political establishment.

In fact, most of the imperialist ­politicians and owners of big business pushed for a Remain vote. They saw Britain’s present imperial interest as best carried out within the EU.

These shortcomings shouldn’t stop anyone from watching Sanghera’s powerful and thought provoking film.

Empire State of Mind. Saturday 20 Nov, 9pm on Channel 4

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